Isn't Weekly Communion Too Boring?
I recently wrote an article arguing that the church should celebrate communion every Sunday. I offered five reasons why we should reclaim the Reformation’s emphasis on sharing in the Lord’s Supper weekly. If we reverse engineered those points, I’d suggest that don’t do so because our Sunday worship is:
- Not in its essence Reformed.
- Wrongly centred around preaching.
- Consumer-driven and pragmatic.
The remainder of this post was initially a short point in that previous post. But while writing I realised that it warrants its own post and further development. Below I contend that one of the main reasons many churches don’t celebrate communion every Sunday is that it is unspectacular, boring, and much less exciting than other elements of modern worship.
Communion: Powerful Proclamation
I’ve remarked before that a pastor once said, regarding gathered Sunday worship: “We can change anything, but the gospel.” With such an embarrassingly reductionistic view of corporate worship, it’s no wonder that communion has become optional. So let’s listen to Paul. After quoting Jesus’ instructions and institution of the Lord’s Supper, he writes: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Many readers will be surprised that Paul refers to celebrating communion as “proclamation,” because we’ve been lead to believe that proclamation is what happens in the 30-40 minutes after the Bible reading and before the closing song. Proclamation is preaching, right? And the only pastor does that. Wrong.
One reader very helpfully wrote to me, after my previous post, saying: “We should see the Lord’s Supper as a sermon that engages all of our senses.” His point is a valuable corrective, cutting against the prevalent mood in much of Protestantism, which majors in the preached sermon. As Calvin says, communion is “a spiritual banquet” (Institutes 4.17.1). It engages me as a whole, embodied person—rather than a mind that merely receives information through teaching. Approaching the Lord’s Supper I take up my role as someone graciously invited into table fellowship with God. I do this with other sinners, and as we participate together we see the body made one, continually nourished and sustained by Christ our head. One could multiply examples proving that communion is an embodied sermon, both a powerful and inclusive gospel message.
Stop Trying to Sell Worship
But let’s be honest, on the surface communion is profoundly ordinary. The bread is often stale, or the juice is saccharine. On top of that, we deem the whole exercise boring and probably confusing for non-Christians. Though few pastors and Christian leaders would admit it, the first of those lies behind their decision to only celebrate communion sporadically: it’s seemingly unspectacular and unimpressive. In an age where churches are spending big on broadcasting services, lighting their stages, and pursuing music that rivals Hillsong, the weekly practice of communion appears weak, even pathetic. That would be alright, if we hadn’t traded in the cross for marketable content and mesmerising on-stage performances.
Communion just doesn’t sell. Besides, because we all know that Sunday worship is only really about the preached word—and a cracking worship set—there’s no need to get caught up in arguments about Reformed worship. If we’re going to add something to our conveniently short worship gatherings, it’s going to be something of real value: trendier leading, professionally produced videos, powerful song items, and pizazz. In the marketplace of online content and professional Sunday productions, communion has low stock. Our currency is the spectacular, rather than the predictable and plain.
Choose the Christ Spectacle
In his superb little book, Competing Spectacles, Tony Reinke says that the church will increasingly trade in spectacles as we lose confidence in work of the Holy Spirit. He writes, “Despite the loud theatrical trailers of the world’s spectacle-making machines, the church is the true dramaturgy of the ages. God has authored the weakness of his people on purpose, to highlight the power of his gospel. And in this weakness, the world thinks that they see something quite different from what is really being enacted.” Commenting specifically on the sacraments, Reinke calls the church a spectacle of divine conquest, through its unimpressive and repetitive enactments of God’s great story. We’ve just bought the lie that what the world really needs is more impressive, novel, and exciting spectacles.
On numerous occasions throughout the Gospels, Jesus refused to be a spectacle maker. Though God might have once again split the Red Sea, the Son of God spilt his own blood. And before he went to the cross Jesus gave his church an unimpressive and repetitive sacrament to participate in that work by faith: communion.